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Q&A: Timothy Spall

The worst thing anyone's said to me? 'Sorry old boy, but you've got leukaemia'

Timothy Spall, 57, was born in London. After studying at Rada, he joined Birmingham Rep and the RSC before being cast in the hit TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in 1983. His movies include Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet and Secrets & Lies, and Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. He played Churchill in The King's Speech, Peter Taylor in The Damned United and Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films. He is currently starring in PG Wodehouse's Blandings on BBC1. He is married with three children.


What was your most embarrassing moment?


I have had a tendency to sleepwalk in the past. I once woke up in the nude in a corridor of a hotel in Cornwall in the small hours of the morning. Oh, the cringing shame.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


Wanting to be liked – it's a fine line between amiability and vanity.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?


Arrogance combined with stupidity and smugness.

Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?


A new Jaguar XJR: I got a discount but, oh my, it was still a lot of dosh.

What is your greatest fear?


Dying before I'm ready.

What would your super power be?


I would like to be able to fire invisible anti-misery missiles from my eyes.

Who would play you in the film of your life?


Me, but if I wasn't available, Beyoncé.

What is your most unappealing habit?


I'm prone to flatulence and its undeserved glorification.

What is your favourite word?


It's unprintable and, if I admitted it was my favourite word, I'd make a Berkshire hunt of myself.

What is your favourite book?


The Pickwick Papers.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?


A pith helmet, an A-line cocktail dress and some absolutely divine Manolo Blahnik yak-lined, high-heeled boxing boots.

What is the worst thing anyone's said to you?


My doctor: "Sorry, old boy, but you've got leukaemia."

What does love feel like?


If there was a definitive answer to that we wouldn't have need for art, poetry and music.

Have you ever said 'I love you' and not meant it?


When I'm merry with the juices of Bacchus, I love everybody, so I suppose the answer is yes. Although I mean it at the time.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?


London in the 1830s, with plenty of antibiotics and hand cleansers.

How often do you have sex?


I'd prefer to keep my mystery.

What is the closest you've come to death?


In 1996, when I was being treated for leukaemia. At one point I had a vicious infection that was trying to claim me. Mercifully, due to love and expertise, I pulled through.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?


A potion that would make me fit, thin, healthy and useful.

What song would you like to be played at your funeral?


from Purcell's Dido And Aeneas, which is very sad, followed by Ain't It Grand To Be Bloomin' Well Dead, a music hall song that is blackly funny.

Tell us a joke


I'm feeling cooped up and peckish – do you think I might have bird flu?


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